Sidmouth Folk Week 2008 - Blackmore Gardens marquee.

Oh dear me!

In 2007 the marquee was under-utilised on many evenings. So in 2008 (and to save money) it was reduced in size with a significantly smaller dance floor. Whilst the floor itself was almost perfect the marquee became insufferably hot and humid during all the well attended ceilidhs.

As a portent, the Friday night ceilidh with Martyn Harvey and This Way Up was well attended (despite that many folkies had yet to arrive) and became far too hot. The following night, Asha attracted a capacity crowd but the marquee was so hot and humid that many people (including me) left after a few dances.

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The dance marquee in Blackmore Gardens, 2008, on a bleak wet morning. The far end was sectioned off and used for part of the Craft Fair. When it was in operation for ceilidhs, panels in the front end were open as were two panels in one side - but this provided a wholly insufficient level of ventilation. The roof is low, the location is sheltered and the internal heat generation may have exceeded 70 kW - maybe 300W per folkie (120W when resting!) and over 10kW from electrical equipment. If there is no breeze, the only answer is to encourage as much cross ventilation as possible - or use some very large fans!

The problem that the organisers seem unable or unwilling to address is that these low-roof marquees can become almost unbearably hot and sticky even during mild weather - and especially when located in sheltered locations. They need several or sometimes all the side panels open (and on both sides) to allow adequate dissipation of internally generated heat. Any building scientist could tell the organisers that single-sided ventilation in a low roof deep plan building can be a poor option. This is why shops and warehouses can still feel warm inside when large doors are left wide open!

There are two problems here - one is the chronic shortage of stewards at Sidmouth, the other is overzealous application of fire and H&S regulations which may not permit openings onto an area of grass and shrubs - lest escaping folkies trip and injure themselves. One solution is simple enough but has never been implemented. The 'unused' sides could be opened but then closed off using orange mesh of the type farmers use for sheep, or mesh of some other type, perhaps that used for concrete reinforcement.

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The 'hidden' side of the Blackmore Gardens marquee. Opening many of the side panels here would have substantially alleviated the overheating. However, the openings could not have been designated as 'fire escapes' because of the number of trip hazards - trees and bushes. Whilst this side needs opening up, it would have to be made clear that it was not a fire escape route.
But as one of the announcers said (when patiently pointing out the obvious means of escape), the statistics for fires in this type of dance marquee are probably zero.

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A significant trip hazard in the pathway beside the 'hidden' side of the Blackmore Gardens marquee.

This pathway was little used by folkies but it was open to the public and in a dimly lit area underneath a tree canopy.

A tree root has (over some years) produced a large protuberance. Maybe one of our local councils should attend to it?

Marquees of this type are used elsewhere for similar functions - for example at Towersey Festival - and the suppliers should take note of problems and provide solutions, rather than leave every festival to reinvent the building physics wheel. For those having a scientific inclination - try looking up 'single sided ventilation' on Google, or read a textbook. Openings in the roof might be more difficult, and it is worth mentioning that rain in August is not unusual in the UK - it is long periods of hot dry weather that occur only infrequently. The festival needs to cope with both extremes - and so does the design of their marquees.

At the 2008 Towersey festival the ceilidh marquee was larger and higher than the one in Blackmore, the weather was maybe a little cooler but with far more breeze. Nevertheless it rapidly became too hot until a couple of side flaps were opened.

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All manner of spurious H&S objections might be raised by jobsworth officials whose only purpose in life seems to be to try and convince everyone else of their importance. Undertaking risk assessments running to 20 pages (and which contain nothing of academic or other importance) is a well known make-work activity for the type of people who would be unemployable outside of local government and quangos. It is just a pity (as detailed below) that these people major on trivia whilst failing to address some of the key issues for H&S. It would be interesting to obtain some of the 'risk assessment' documents used for festivals under the Freedom of Information Act and to publish a summary of just how little of relevance they contained.

Folkies are in the main intelligent people and the vast majority of dancers are never knowingly drunk. Therefore, if they were told clearly "these sides of the marquee are covered in mesh, they are not fire exits so don't try and use them" that would surely be sufficient warning. In cooler periods, the side flaps could easily be closed leaving the mesh on the outside in place all week. Either type of mesh would be sufficiently secure if properly fixed so that extra stewards would not be needed to guard against illicit entry to events.

As it was, many dancers became broiled with quite a few vowing 'never again' if this was the quality of dance venue that Sidmouth Folk Week was to provide.

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Blackmore Gardens benefited from the new arrangement of marquees with a substantial grassed area left free for the public to use - maybe next year for the picnics in glorious sunshine. The craft tents could be moved outside of Blackmore altogether (as was apparently mooted for 2008) so permitting a larger dance floor. There were apparently problems with damage to the main areas of lawn in Blackmore Gardens after Folk Week 2007 - one reason why the marquees were kept to the edges in 2008.

The low spot was undoubtedly the Maerlock ceilidh on the Monday - numerous people left saying the music was terrible (and far too loud) and the venue full of drunken youngsters - which would be unusual for Blackmore Gardens. Perhaps it was just an experiment to appeal to 'yoof'. If so, it went wrong - and it was surely never suitable for Sidmouth? Both Asha and Token Women played to a marquee packed with broiled sardines - many of whom did not appreciate the experience. So for next year, maybe a bigger and equally good dance floor and MORE VENTILATION including on the 'closed' side. After all, we could even have had some hot summer's nights in 2008 and it really would then have been almost impossible to continue dancing in this venue!

There were similar problems in 2007 in Church House Lawn marquee. Same problem, same solutions possible, same disinterested suppliers and same obstructive officials I guess! And of course, never really enough stewards to go round.

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